By the ages of five and six, your child is developing a healthy curiosity about the world around him — including the many fascinating and novel websites he finds online. While there are many kid-friendly sites that are educational and fun, there are also many that can be dangerous to a young child — especially for those who are unaware of the dark side of the Internet.
For parents, this might not seem like a major child-rearing issue initially — after all, none of us grew up with iPhones or laptops. But for our children, the situation is very different. It has been estimated that up to 7.5 million children younger than 13 have Facebook profiles worldwide and many kids nowadays have easy access to a tablet or smartphone. At this age, your child is beginning to assert his independence. While this is all part of growing up, it also means that online safety is increasingly important. But fret not, there are parenting resources which can guide you in bringing up your child in the digital age. Besides the Media Development Authority and Health Promotion Board, the Media Literacy Council (supported by the Media Development Authority) has also provided relevant resources, do check them out at http://www.medialiteracycouncil.sg/Resources/Pages/parents.aspx.
Here are a few tips on how to keep your pre-schooler safe online:
1. Explain the dangers
Just like there are safe and unsafe situations in real life, tell your child that there are safe and unsafe websites online. The main thing is to encourage your child to be open with you and to tell you immediately about anything that makes them uncomfortable.
2. Avoid ‘friends’ who are strangers to him
Tell them to avoid contact with people that they don’t know — just like how they shouldn’t interact with strangers in real life, too. Explain that people are not always who they say they are online, and that if a strange person contacts them that they should let you know straightaway.
3. Keep informed
Spend time with your child while he is online, so that you are aware of what he is doing and what sites he is using. This is a good way to model appropriate online behaviour for him as well.
4. Make the screen accessible
Place the family computer so that you are always able to see the monitor – put it in the living or dining room, if possible. Keep smartphone and tablet use confined to common areas – don’t let your child take them to bed.
5. Search safely
6. Be clever about clicks
Explain to your child why he shouldn’t open files or click on links unless they are from a known source. This is a great time to talk about how viruses can harm the computer. Another option is to allow your pre-schooler to surf only one site at a time — if he wants to navigate to a new site, ask that he asks you or an older family member for help.
7. Use a child-safe app
Try the Kido’z app (http://kidoz.net/) – designed specifically for pre-schoolers, the app turns all smartphones, tablets or computers into kid-friendly devices. Parental controls let you toggle between online/offline mode, set time limits and manage what your child can or cannot see or do online. Best of all, you can set up a custom profile for each child. Other PC options include NetNanny, Norton Family and Kaspersky PURE.
The key is to establish your expectations and limits clearly and specify what the consequences are if your child breaks the rules. It is a good idea to explain to your child that you have installed parental controls and why – trust is the cornerstone of any relationship, including your relationship with your child.
If you keep the lines of communication open and are consistent in your approach (don’t forget to set a good example), your child will quickly learn how to become a responsible online citizen. These are good habits that will carry on through his primary and secondary school years – by laying a good foundation early in life you will be saving yourself a headache later!
Child-friendly sites and apps
Unsure of where to get started? Try these child-friendly and educational options.
Games, e-books, videos and more, dedicated to promoting child safety online.
Interactive online reading with activities and more with a special section dedicated to pre-schoolers.
Games and activities for children up to 10 years of age – there’s plenty here for your six-year-old!